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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » Everything old is new again » » Origins of Mentalism (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

DanCprfld
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I've only done a little research on the origin of mentalism and all I come up with is that it started out of the 1920's when the spiritualist shows were going on. Can someone please help me to find a better way to explain where it came from? I know that there was a magician that did a little back in the 1880's but I don't recall a name. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.
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bubbleburst2004
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Daniel

The Davenport brothers were performing around 1855.

BB
Jonathan Townsend
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The "prediction" and two person mind reading stuff go way back, as do cold reading and "fortune telling"... which goes back to ancient Egypt. Lots of history around if you like to read.
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DanCprfld
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Thanks to the both of you for your help.
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irossall
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I agree with Jonathan but to add a note here, I believe that the Davenport brothers were strickly involved with Spiritualism not Mentalism but I very well may be wrong.
Mentalism probably goes as far back as the time of primitive man, maybe even before man discovered fire.
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Bill Palmer
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Washington Irving Bishop was one of the earliest American mentalists. He was an excellent practitioner of what is now termed "Hellstromism." He was killed by a group of doctors who thought he was already dead. They did not read the note he carried that said he was subject to cataleptic trances.

This transpired during the late 1800's.

But mentalism goes back further than that. Robert-Houdin and his son performed a two-person mindreading act.

And then there were all of the famous oracles from the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
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robb_randall
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As I've not made an exhaustive study of the ancient origins of that which we today call, "mentalism," I do not feel qualified to comment on its history; however, I do believe I have a handle on its more-or-less poetic/esoteric foundations.

Mentalism, more so than traditional "magic," addresses the "big" questions: "Where do we come from?" "Why are we here?" "Is there life after death?" "Is this all there is?" etc. With mentalism, for most spectators (and, frankly, practitioners) there is a natural (supernatural, if you will...) suspension of disbelief that is not readily apparent when Rocco juggles his pretty lights. (Nothing against either Rocco or "D'Lite-ful" magic; I was just making a point.)

With mentalism, even if people "don't" believe, they truly "want" to believe. I may just be talking out of my hat here, but I'm guessing that Randi's "challenge" is as much about "Dog-gone it! If this stuff truly exists, I want to see it!" as it is about "This stuff doesn't exist..."

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Just ran across this thread, but I thought the following excerpt from my book "Fundamentals" might be interesting to some:

(Quoted with permission from myself)

________________________________________

How it All Began


To understand the art of mentalism and many of the debates that surround it today, nothing is more illuminating than a brief review of its early history. As a performing art, modern mentalism evolved during the period spanning the latter half of the nineteenth century through the early years of the twentieth. It was a theatrical response to the public’s fascination with Spiritualism, Theosophy, hypnotism and early psychical research.

The first “mentalists” did not have conjuring backgrounds, although they did, unquestionably, make use of sleight of hand, gimmickry and misdirection to accomplish their feats. Without exception, however, all claimed to possess – either explicitly or implicitly – genuine paranormal abilities. All were subject to attacks and exposures by magicians and skeptics and, as a result, many careers were short lived. Only a select few were able to survive the onslaughts and controversy to enjoy successful careers as public performers.

In short, not much has changed.



A Few Members of the Original Cast of Characters


Anna Eva Fay

By the mid 1870’s, Anna Eva Fay had established herself as a stage medium. Her most famous feat was a spirit cabinet routine she called “The Cotton Bandage Test.” (The feat is still performed today, most notably by “Falkenstein and Willard”.) Later, she added a question answering routine utilizing waxed pads to obtain secret impressions of spectators’ written queries.
In 1875 she hired Washington Irving Bishop to be her manager. In 1876, Bishop wrote a complete expose of Fay’s act and began his own career as a mentalist. His performances included an expose of Fay’s “fraudulent” tests and, later, demonstrations of his own “genuine” thought reading abilities.
In 1889 Faye publicly mocked Bishop in the press.


John Randall Brown

In 1872, as a reporter assigned to covering séances, Brown invented the thought reading technique now known as muscle reading. (Based on detecting what is now referred to as ‘Involuntary Muscle Response’, or ‘IMR’.) Taking to the stage, he billed himself as ‘The First and Original Thought Reader’ and began a successful career in mentalism. In 1877 he taught his technique to Washington Irving Bishop.


Washington Irving Bishop

In 1877, after learning muscle reading from Brown, Bishop added it to his act and became the most successful practitioner of the technique. He went to England where he billed himself as ‘The First and Original Thought Reader’ and drew the attention of the magician John Maskelyne, one of the first of the magician/exposers to attack stage mentalists.
Bishop, hastily leaving England to avoid the enforcement of a court judgment obtained against him by Maskelyne, returned to the United States. Brown, in the meantime, was no longer calling himself ‘The First and Original Thought Reader” but, instead, had become ‘The First and Original White Mahatma’ (in response, apparently, to the growing popularity of Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophical movement.) Unfortunately, the title was already in use by Samri S. Baldwin, the apparent originator of the one-ahead system as applied to question answering acts, who responded by calling himself “The REAL and Only Original White Mahatma”.


And that's the way it was. They claimed to possess real paranormal abilities, while attacking and exposing the competition and stealing each others billings. In the meantime, they defended themselves against, or did their best to avoid, attacks against themselves by magicians and skeptics.

Like I said, not much has changed.

_________________________________________

Best regards,

Bob Cassidy
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